Looking at the Societal Aspects of Climate

What is ‘the sociological history of climate change’?

How did you learn about climate change? Did you delve into the scientific literature and come up with a detached conclusion? No-one does this.

Concern over climate change lives within our society. My parents told me about how humans were destroying the planet. My teachers told me about the greenhouse effect at school. The TV told me. The internet told me. Greta Thunburg, Al Gore, and even Boris Johnson told me. Climate change is a societal force as well as a physical phenomenon.

I see it as my job to investigate climate change as a societal force.

This is not as simple as it sounds. This isn’t a linear story of climate scientists coming up with startling conclusions that are then transmitted into the political sphere – if this was the case, climate activism would have started in the 1938, when the basic scientific tenets of climate change narratives were laid out by Guy Stewart Callendar, or in 1960, when these tenets were confirmed by the measurements of Charles Keeling.

Rather, the rise of climate change discourse is a complex story regarding the utilisation and receptibility of climate-based narratives, a story that is very much still developing today.

My work can be split into two main strands.

I look at how climate discourse has emerged as an important societal phenomenon through resonances with wider events. Most notably, I have uncovered the co-option of several high-profile climate events by policy entrepreneurs during a period of financial crisis in the early 1970s, with charismatic orators drawing a causal link between long-term climatic change and rising domestic food prices in the United States.

I also investigate how the atmosphere has come to materially affect everyday lives through the use of climate and weather information by utilities administrators. For example, I investigate how integrated atmosphere-energy systems exhibit emergent vulnerabilities under the pressures of consumer demand.

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